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|| News Item: Posted 2006-12-06

Review: 'Photosynthesis: A Simple Guide to the Magic of Photography'
What Photographers Should Be Reading

By Jim McNay, Brooks Institute of Photography

Photo by
If you buy only ONE photography book this year....

Long known as one of photojournalism's "Old Men of the Mountain" ("When you can take the pebble from my hand, Grasshopper....") Bryan Moss has now distilled much of his coaching and thinking into this volume. It contains a few pictures and some text. It has thoughts to occupy a lifetime.

Several years ago Carl Mydans spoke at a workshop and showed four pictures during his talk. The following year Mydans spoke again. This time he showed one photograph.

One gets the sense Moss is traveling a similar path. Less is more. Just show a few photographs. In a couple years we'll be able to dial into his website and get an audio file of "Ommmmmmm" as our coaching lesson. He won't have to show us a thing.

Moss served as a photographer and picture editor at several newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He and his wife Mary Jo Moss currently run the White Cloud Workshop (

Wherever you find yourself in photography, much of this book is relevant. There is plenty for the beginner to absorb at the start of a career. For the photographic journeyman (or woman), there is information that will ease the transition to mastery. For veteran photographers there is a reminder of what they have learned along the way-and insight to apply that knowledge.

Teachers should at least show this book to their students. They should probably require it. This is one worth reading every year.

Photo by
As part of the journey, Moss weaves his own "outside the box" ideas into the presentation. When a photographer tells him about activities that could be photographed for a picture story on Saturday, Moss suggests going to see the family on Thursday-to see what unexpected moments might happen then.

In the simple thought is the profound.

Moss has read widely and provides a bibliography if photographers want to dig more deeply. Along the way Moss publishes great quotes-about photography and Life, The Universe and Everything. The book would be worth it for the quotations alone.

What Edward Weston and Arnold Newman have to say about composition, what Charles Mingus has to say about simplicity, what Moss has to say about the discipline of "practice"-look, just go buy the book!

Books worth reading once a year:
Photosynthesis - Bryan Moss
The Great Picture Hunt 2 - Dave Labelle
Bird by Bird - Ann Lamott
War and Peace (The great desert island classic!) - Leo Tolstoy

Photosynthesis: A Simple Guide to the Magic of Photography By Bryan Moss. Available from the author's website: for $29.95.

Photographers, particularly those in school or seeking to break into the photojournalism, are welcome to send ideas for future columns to Jim McNay at

Questions about getting started in photojournalism that might be answered in future columns are also welcome.

Related Links:
Book: PhotoSynthesis
Book: The Great Picture Hunt 2
Jim McNay's Member Page

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